Viking Night: A Christmas Story
By Bruce Hall
December 17, 2013
When I was a little boy, all I ever wanted for Christmas was an X-Wing Fighter.
And I imagined myself in it, exploding the Death Star, being a hero, earning that big shiny gold medal and getting busy with Princess Leia because I didn’t know at the time that technically she was my sister. I dreamed of this at night, I doodled it on my Trapper Keeper at school instead of paying attention in class, and I told my parents – and Santa – every chance I got that this, and only this was what I wanted. No other presents mattered, and nothing in the real world could tear me away from this fantasy.
The economy? Hunger? The Soviet Union? The ever present threat of thermonuclear Armageddon? Whether or not I eventually graduated high school and became a productive member of society? None of these things were of any concern to me until I had a brand new, officially licensed X-Wing fighter from Kenner toys under the Christmas tree. Sadly, I never got it and Mom, if you’re reading this, I still have a space cleared for it on the bookshelf in my Man Cave. So imagine my delight when, at some point during my formative years, I saw A Christmas Story. The star of this movie was a little boy my own age who just wanted that One Special Toy for Christmas.
It was a simple, moving story of perseverance in the face of ruthless oppression and hope in the midst of utter despair. It spoke to me then, and its timeless message speaks to us even now - even across the intervening ages.
Ralph “Ralphie” Parker (Peter Billingsley) isn’t your typical nine-year-old boy. He is Everyboy – assuming, of course, you are a blond haired, blue eyed model of Aryan perfection who lives in upper middle class comfort in a progressively integrated Midwest suburb in the 1940s. More important, Ralphie is a generally obedient young man who respects his parents, applies himself in school and more or less always does the right thing. All he wants for Christmas is a Red Ryder carbine-action, two hundred shot Range Model air rifle with a compass in the stock and some kind of…thing that tells time in it. I wouldn’t know, my mother wouldn’t let me play with guns, because she absolutely insisted I’d either shoot my eye out or grow up to be the Boston Strangler.
Interesting she should say that, because Ralphie’s mother (Melinda Dillon) suffers from the same maternal distortion of how firearms work. At every turn, poor Ralphie is warned, first by Mom, then by his teacher (Tedde Moore), and even by Drunken Department Store Santa himself that he will indeed shoot his eye out should he ever lay his hands on this most excellent of Christmas gifts. But like the heroes of legend, Ralphie perseveres, trudging to school in the snow, uphill both ways, protecting his defenseless (but well padded) little brother (Ian Petrella) from highwaymen and slowly coming of age in the crucible of fourth grade adversity. It is a timeless story that remains relevant to this day and not unlike Odysseus, the name “Ralphie Parker” will forever echo throughout the annals of history.
Am I being a little over the top? Have you read my work before? I am definitely amusing myself, but are very strong threads of truth behind most exaggerations and this is the basis behind every epic journey your own fourth grade teacher made you read in class. Virtually anyone who has been a nine-year-old boy in suburban America will be able to identify with Ralphie, no matter when you grew up. And not just the boys; the ladies out there can surely remember playing Gollum, and doing everything humanly (and inhumanly) possible to make sure Santa brought The Precious to you on Christmas morning. We’ve all been there, and it’s shared experiences like these that make childhood in general, and the Holidays in particular, such a communal experience.
In fact, A Christmas Story is more like a series of NPR style childhood vignettes than a Christmas movie. And it is, in fact, based on a series of supposedly autobiographical yarns told by writer Jean Shepard, whose “slice of life” style of storytelling had appeared everywhere from terrestrial radio to Playboy magazine by the time A Christmas Story was made. At times, you forget you’re watching a Christmas movie and just find yourself chuckling at your own memories of the resident School Bully, the important distinction between a Double and Triple Dog-Dare (which my own kids tell me is still very true) and your own father’s insistence on having that one particularly hideous trophy in the house that drove your mother insane.
Whether or not Ralphie gets his Red Ryder carbine-action, two hundred shot Range Model air rifle with a compass in the stock eventually feels less important than having the opportunity to relive your own past as you watch. Still, I have to admit that the story’s payoff is a very clever, charming and ultimately befitting one. And in case you’re wondering, although I never did get my X-Wing, my parents DID buy me the Millennium Falcon the very next year. Not only was this a larger and more expensive present (gift size means a lot to a kid) but they pronounced it right, and even provided me with Han Solo and Chewbacca action figures to go with it. Granted, it was Ice Planet Han Solo, instead of Awesome Leather Vest Who Totally Shot Greedo First Han Solo, but it was the thought that counts.
Parents don’t always understand but they usually try, and that’s what the holidays are all about…right?